Round 3 of the Autumn Nations Series did not fail to disappoint with a stunning late show at Twickenham the highlight on a weekend that also saw big wins for Scotland and France.
Fans inside BT Murrayfield were treated to a 12-try cracker while Fabien Galthié’s men completed a full calendar year unbeaten with a victory over Japan.
Ireland overcame Australia in a nail-biter at the Aviva Stadium while Wales slipped to a narrow defeat to Georgia in Cardiff.
Italy were looking to match their three-match home winning streak of 1997-1998 and finish their Autumn Nations Series campaign unbeaten but fell to a valiant defeat against world champions South Africa.
A glimpse of England’s potential
At 25-6 down with less than 10 minutes remaining, it seemed certain England would slip to a sixth defeat in seven meetings with the All Blacks, but Bath prop Will Stuart had other ideas.
The 26-year-old barged his way over twice either side of a sumptuous Freddie Steward try to level the scores at 25-25 and complete a miraculous fightback.
And while England were second best for a large part of the game, the final 30 minutes undoubtedly belonged to the home side.
What will frustrate Eddie Jones is the fact his team were clearly capable of taking an aggressive, front-foot approach.
The full-time statistics showed that across the whole match England had more possession and territory than New Zealand.
They spent double the time in the opposition’s 22, and in the final 20 minutes made more offloads than in the preceding 60.
The challenge this weekend against South Africa, then, is to turn that dominance into points far sooner than the 72nd minute and start as quickly as they finished against the All Blacks.
Scotland to start Guinness Six Nations with confidence
After coming so close to defeating Australia and New Zealand, Scotland were after a result that their performances deserved and their 52-29 win sets them up for an intriguing Guinness Six Nations.
Finn Russell’s performances have surely secured his involvement in the next instalment of Rugby’s Greatest Championship – Gregor Townsend gave him a ringing endorsement after the win.
The Racing 92 fly-half was instrumental in five of Scotland’s eight tries in a contest that threatened to boil over at points.
But Scotland’s ruthlessness against a side who defeated England only two weeks ago will give them confidence they can repeat the Round 1 win over Jones’ men on February 4.
And with Wales arriving at BT Murrayfield a week later, Gregor Townsend should be optimistic of a strong start to the 2023 Championship.
Ireland find a way against Wallabies
Ireland did not have it all their own way against Australia but replacement Ross Byrne kept his head to slot a late penalty and clinch a 13-10 victory.
It is a cliché that the best teams find a way to win in the face of adversity, but it still rings true in the wake of the match in Dublin.
With no Johnny Sexton after Andy Farrell’s talisman suffered a calf injury in the warm-up, it fell to 22-year-old Jack Crowley to pull on the No.10 jersey.
Crowley impressed on his first senior international start, but the nature of Ireland’s performance suggests they will be desperate for a swift Sexton recovery.
It is important to remember, however, that despite losing to Italy, Australia have been a tough side to beat in this Autumn Nations Series.
In fact, the three-point margin of defeat was the biggest the Wallabies have suffered in four matches.
Ireland will certainly face more challenging tests in 2023, but momentum has been maintained and that will be all important in the lead up to next year’s World Cup.
Alldritt underlines importance to unbeaten France
France too had a winning run to maintain, but theirs stretched back to July 2021.
And it will extend into February 2023 at the very least, after Les Bleus defeated Japan for the third time this year on Sunday.
Their 35-17 win saw exceptional performances from double try-scorer Damian Penaud and replacement fly-half Mattieu Jalibert.
But Gregory Alldritt at No.8 was just as influential, justifying his inclusion in World Rugby’s men’s XV of 2022 to anyone who was in any doubt over his brilliance.
The La Rochelle loose forward was 30m carried clear of his nearest competitor on Sunday, beat more defenders, seven, and recorded more turnover tackles, two, than anyone in Toulouse.
Eyebrows were raised when Ardie Savea was left out of World Rugby’s dream XV, but Alldritt is as important to the 13-game unbeaten Bleus as Savea is to the All Blacks.
If France emerge from the 2023 Guinness Six Nations unscathed, only injuries to key players like Alldritt, Penaud or skipper Antoine Dupont would dampen expectations of a World Cup triumph on home soil.
Capuozzo’s star continues to rise
Italy’s renaissance and Ange Capuozzo’s meteoric rise have gone hand-in-hand, and despite losing to the Springboks on Saturday, the young full-back’s reputation continues to soar.
The Azzurri held their own for a large period of the 63-21 loss to South Africa, but the world champions just had too much in the second half.
Tommaso Allan’s penalty in the 45th minute brought the home side to within two points of their opponents, 16-18, after Capuozzo had once again showed his quality to zip to the whitewash early on.
But even if South Africa’s defence was breached by Lorenzo Cannone for Italy’s second try, the visitors’ quality shone through and seven second-half tries gave the Springboks a comfortable victory.
World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year will not be disheartened though and in a team full of exciting young talent, this is only the start for Capuozzo and Italy.
Wales fall to Georgia defeat
Jac Morgan impressed for Wales but the 22-year-old flanker’s two first-half tries could not prevent a 13-12 defeat to Georgia at Principality Stadium.
Wayne Pivac will be hoping for a much-improved performance against Australia next weekend, but Morgan’s display was a bright spark on an otherwise gloomy day.
Tedo Abzhandadze had given the Lelos the lead from the tee before Morgan beat two men and crossed in the corner unscathed.
His first Test try was swiftly followed by his second as the Ospreys loose forward went over in the same corner to grow Wales’ lead to 12-3.
But after the break, Sandro Todua benefited from Abzhandadze’s cross-field kick to go over and debutant Luka Matkava kicked a long-range penalty to give Georgia their first win over the Welsh.